|Posted by jeffdoucette on May 8, 2017 at 1:15 PM|
4th Sunday of Easter…Homily
Title: How do we treat our own sheep?
Our Scripture passage this morning is from the gospel of John ch 10: vs 1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
One: Hear what the Spirit is saying to us this day.
All: Thanks be to God.
So honesty time here. I know nothing about sheep. I have never owned them and have never visited a farm with sheep. I have never met a shepherd. I have driven by places with sheep. I have stopped a few times to take pictures of them alongside the road but they always run away afraid of me. I tried calling them back…but that just seemed to make them all the more afraid of me.
Sandy and I were excited when our next door neighbor Bill announced he was putting up new fencing because they were going to get sheep next door which meant also a donkey and that excited Sandy beyond belief. But it was not meant to be as Bill’s cancer came back strong. We passed a prayer shawl around for him during one of our services. And the cancer eventually took Bill home to the God he loved so deeply. In his honor, Sandy and I donated money to Save the Children which provided three sheep to families to help them earn incomes.
So by times I am a little jealous of the disciples in the gospel stories who got to experience some of these encounters first hand with Jesus. I visited Israel in 1997 with a group of pilgrims but it is nothing like actually being there in the midst of one of these stories. But Jesus was a storyteller and knew how to connect life with faith. He knew how to speak to his disciples in simple terms that they could understand and apply to their everyday lives.
And so this Sunday morning pulls us into the world of sheep and shepherds, gates and enclosures, thieves and bandits and invites us to find a way to apply it to our own lives.
But first let’s look at the text. It comes in John’s gospel following the story we heard in Lent about the healing of the man born blind. This man who was healed by Jesus and had his sight restored. Yet in that story we had the local authorities who had him cast out as an outsider, a sinner because he had no sight and so someone in his family or he himself must have done something wrong and therefore deserved it. Jesus did his best to make sure they knew that this notion was not in line with God’s thinking and God’s love. If they continued this line of thinking…well they were no better than a thief or bandit that tried to climb over an enclosure to harm or steal the sheep from a Shepherd.
I love this image of Jesus comparing himself as a Shepherd who cares for their sheep. This job was not for the faint of heart or timid people. It required courage, an unwavering love and willingness to protect their flock and to be in their midst with a comforting familiar voice. They laid their own lives on the line protecting the sheep. They were looked down upon as a lower class. The sheep knew the voice of the Shepherd that took care of them and could distinguish an intruder’s voice up to no good. Much like animals can sense our energy and know our moods. Look at dogs for instance, before they hear a word or a gesture they can pick up on our energy. I think it must be the same for sheep. They are not as stupid as we make them out to be.
And Jesus also uses the image of gate to describe himself. A gate was important to sheep. It brought them into an enclosure of safety at the end of a journey and allowed them a sense of comfort and security. A shepherd I imagine when out in the fields might try and find an area that seemed like an enclosed space so they could keep an eye on them at night. And back at home in the morning, the gate was opened out into the pasture to find food and water. And this cycle continued.
So what do we do with this gospel passage? How might we apply it to our lives. Well let me suggest one way of looking at it…my take on it from some discussions I have had this past week.
Maybe we could look at our church as an enclosure for those who gather here each Sunday, but also during the week for many reasons. It is meant to be a place of safety, a safe space I call it. And so this enclosure or God’s sheep pen if you wish is meant for us to be able to breathe out from life and what we encounter. It allows us as we breathe out to breathe in God, to breathe in God’s word which can speak to what we live, to breathe in God’s music which can lift our spirits and to breathe in God’s people who gather around us like Shepherds who care for us.
But what about the other sheep of our church family? Those who left us, have drifted away or even those in our midst who have felt unwelcome. How do we act around each other? How do we treat one another? Do we even notice they are not here? By times I have someone who asks “if such and such was here for our service”. I answer “I don’t take attendance when I preach”. It is funny when I reach out I always worry people are thinking I am taking attendance and I often say “I’m not taking attendance”. I just noticed you have not been around and hope things are ok.
Also I might be here and there before the service talking to people and then to my seat so we can start on time. So I don’t necessarily see people who I might think come in but do not. It can be so easy to come into our own little space, trying to find the same seat and not move outside our own row. And so we can become unaware of people and those who are not here. That is one of the reasons I love to come early, to be around to talk with people, hear what is happening in their lives.
Are we willing, and I include myself when I say this, to look at how we interact with people? How welcoming are we really? And again let’s pause before we answer that question honestly. We may have said or done things to isolate people who no longer come. And before we know it, a week ends up a month, then months and then a year etc. And so often the work of pastoral care is left to me as minister solely. But this is the work of the entire congregation. We are all called to be Shepherds and care for one another for we hold within us the spirit of the Good Shepherd from the gospel today.
I have had stories of people who have told me they no longer feel welcome, they feel like outsiders, they feel no one cares. Are we willing to reach out and call, visit and see how they are doing and we miss them at church gatherings.
If we have hurt someone, are we willing to reach out and make amends and start fresh. And maybe we need also to be careful and how we speak to people. What we may find funny may be hurtful to another and isolate them even more. Or maybe the way we approach something within our congregation is hurtful and divisive. Sometimes we close our circles within a congregation and they can be perceived as a clique. I have been to presbytery meetings where I have gone down for coffee and there have been discussions going on and I have felt alone. And often I would just turn around and go back upstairs and sit in the church by myself. When the shoe is on the other foot and I see someone alone, I try and motion them to come and join us. I have seen visitors come and join us for different events only not to come back because they were being ignored.
It is not easy to be in community. It can be downright messy. And even though Church should be different….sadly often it is not. But the gospel calls us as Shepherds to look after the sheep, God’s people, one another, those around us. We all need to be loved. And for some reason life can get so busy that we seem by times to just look past people.
Verna Myers, who is a diversity and inclusion expert has a great line. She says “Diversity is being invited to the party…Inclusion is being asked to dance”
Jesus was an expert in inclusion…that image of Sheep and Shepherd is one of inclusion, of safety, of love. Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me!” Do we know our sister and brother sheep and truly care about one another as the Shepherd does? Think carefully….before we answer yes.
Good Shepherd Sunday May 7th, 2017